Heavy and dirty. That’s how I describe North Carolina’s He Is Legend, a band I’ve been listening to for, sheesh, around seventeen years at this point. Whenever I hear them, I either think about a hot, dirt driven festival tent with the heat from all of the attendees packed underneath the tarp causing condensation on the ceiling and that sweaty mess dripping, periodically down onto my head, causing me to question whether what I feel is my actual sweat or the accumulation of sweat from countless others around me. Or, I think about a dingy club, filled to capacity with bodies in front of the stage, the odor, heat, and sweat mingling together into a sticky, sweet essence that feels like it won’t wash off for days, no matter how hard you try.
A couple of weeks ago, He Is Legend dropped the first two songs from their latest album, Endless Hallway, which dropped on November 11. Everyday since then, I have listened to “The Prowler” and “Lifeless Lemonade” at least once each day. There’s something about this band, a band that I didn’t initially like, that keeps me coming back, over and over again. I’m addicted to the grimy feel, the guttural screams, the bone rattling bass, and the Southern tinges that make up He Is Legend’s discography. In preparation for Endless Hallway, which drops, coincidentally on my birthday, I want to highlight some of my favorite He Is Legend songs, hopefully leading you to go give them a spin.
“I Am Hollywood”
He Is Legend’s debut album, I Am Hollywood dropped in 2004, and when I initially heard it, I really didn’t like it. For me, I think it was the album’s production. While chaotic and hard, it feels clean, from the bass to the guitars, it just doesn’t feel gritty. However, after watching the video for “The Seduction” and listening to songs like “Eating a Book” and “Dinner With a Gypsy,” I started to like it more, especially the eponymous closing song, “I Am Hollywood,” a song that, lyrically, focuses on a girl going to Hollywood to make it big and getting swallowed up by Hollywood.
“I Am Hollywood” showcases so much of what I love about He Is Legend. It’s driving, interspersing clean guitars with thick, heavy sections. Along with this, it showcases lead singer Schuyler Croom’s range going from moments of clarity to intense screams over crushing instrumentation. When he takes on the voice of Hollywood near the end, screaming “I am Hollywood,” Croom’s growl hits the low end and produces a menacing, aural moment that embodies the seductive nature of fame and the monster that it embodies.
“Goldie’s Torn Locks”
He Is Legend’s sophomore album, Suck Out the Poison (2006), really sparked my love for the band. Unlike I Am Hollywood’s polished production, Suck Out the Poison feels dirty. From the opening riff of “Dixie Wolf (The Seduction Of . . .)” to the closing crescendo that devolves into feedback of “((Louds,” the album melds together Southern rock, metal, and punk into a gumbo of aural delicacy that makes me think about weekend afternoons in the woods as much as being in the middle of mosh pit at a show. Now that I think about, this is what draws me to He Is Legend, this melding of my own identities as a Southerner and a punk/metalhead.
When I first got Suck Out the Poison, “Goldie’s Torn Locks” stood out to me and became my favorite song. Again, Croom’s lyrics drew me in as he weaves the stories of a young boy and a young girl who run away from home due to sexual and physical abuse. He sings during the chorus, “I’m seeing children seeing things that I think children shouldn’t see.” It’s a straightforward, punk sounding, heavy melodic chorus where Croom presents the voice of someone viewing the situation from the outside. This sound gets juxtaposed with the off-kilter musicality of the verses and Croom’s building up to screams leading up to the choruses. Takes in total, the song, through the combination of lyrics and music, paints a complex picture of childhood trauma, and Croom ends by wavering, “I am the child who saw everything.”
Where do I even start with It Hates You (2009). This album lived in my car CD player, and I used to listen to endlessly. This album carries over that dirtiness, and songs like “Don’t Touch That Dial,” “Stranger Danger,” and “Party Time” carry some heavy weight. Yet, my favorite song, and right up there for my favorite He Is Legend song, is “That’s Nasty,” a song that starts with a spacey guitar underneath a slightly distorted one but turns quickly into a sluggish, pounding intro with the drums, bass, and guitar riffs. While the opening prepares the listener for a heavy sludge fest, the verses showcase the band’s melodic tendencies, even incorporating a tambourine.
Moving back and forth between melodic and sludgy, “That’s Nasty” carries a feeling of beauty undergirded by dread. It’s hard for me to describe, but it’s a song that works at the intersection of opposing feelings and concludes with a plodding, droning section dripping with weight where Croom screams, No, I’m not feeling alive” before the song ends with Croom’s vocals, lifted above everything with reverb, as he sings, “But I feel just fine.” The song encompasses numerous elements of music that I love, and this is what drives me to it. It soars and descends. It melodically swims across the airs and plunges deep into the earth, and yet somehow bringing these two opposite feelings together in the middle.
“Burn All Your Rock Records”
What can I say about 2019’s White Bat? It is, from start to finish, a masterpiece. There are a few albums that I listen to regular, at least once every week or two weeks, White Bat is one of those records, and “Burn All Your Rock Records,” along with “White Bat,” “Boogiewoman,” and “Uncanny Valley” are some of the highlights. “Burn All the Rock Records” is a groove heavy song that reminds me, in many ways, of my evangelical upbringing. I didn’t get into punk, metal, or rock until high school when I heard Nirvana’s In Utero for the first time. I didn’t listen to many “non-Christian” bands, and even when I started to more and more during high school, I tempered my own dive into those waters. When Tooth and Nail arose, I fell in head first, finding bands that sounded like “secular” bands. None of this really changed till college. In fact, I remember at one point doing the very evangelical thing and throwing a lot of my “secular” CDs and tapes away, and I remember seeing a “Christian” band play and having them turn me away from Tool because of the “Christian” band’s interpretation of “Eulogy.”
Thematically, “Burn All Your Rock Records” reminds me of this, the Satanic Panic, and more. The “tiny little hateful scum” hates the music that doesn’t conform to his beliefs and values, and he bangs on the floorboards trying to squash the racket. Croom points to the man’s lack of engagement with the world and his lack of activity, commenting. , “This motherfucker. He’s carrying on like he ain’t got a care in the world. But who knows? Maybe he don’t.” For all of the man’s bluster, Croom concludes by telling us to “enjoy the extreme” and howl and scream along with “the children of the night.”
Musically, “Burn All Your Rock Records” records begins as a fast, pounding punk song for the verses and the choruses before a massive breakdown as Croom asks about the man’s worldview. It’s a grimy, head-bobbing breakdown that creeps along, matching Croom’s words, “I’m gonna take my time, enjoy the extremes.” It moves from balls to the wall speed to sludge, creating, as with many of their other songs, multiple feelings and themes over the course of a three and a half minute song.
There are countless other He Is Legend songs I could showcase here, but for now, I’ll leave it at these four. As we get ready for Endless Hallway, what are some of your favorite He Is Legend songs? Let me know in the comments below, and make sure to follow me on twitter @silaslapham.